Category: Films & Scores

Five favorite travel-related songs

A long time ago in a galaxy not so far away, this blog was devoted to music and concerts. Since I started travel writing, I’ve neglected my passion for the auditory arts. I’m combining the two today in this post.

When I walk around town, I always have a song playing in my head. It’s like having a personal soundtrack. Here are some of my favorite travel-related songs/compositions. I’d love to hear what yours are in the comments.

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Cinecittà - Reflection in the camera lens

Five Things to Know Before Visiting Cinecittà, Rome’s Movie Studio (Photos)

If you’re a film lover in Rome, a visit to Cinecittà is a must. Built by Mussolini in 1937, the studio has long shed its fascist ways (save for an eagle at the base of the flagpole), becoming one of the longest running and largest film studios in Europe. Great directors have worked here, most notably Federico Fellini for the production of his classics La Dolce Vita and Satyricon. More recently, the studio was used for the filming of Martin Scorsese’s The Gangs of New York, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and HBO’s television series Rome, in which a multi-million dollar set was produced (photos below). Located along the Metro’s Linea A, reaching the expansive movie studio via public transit is really easy.

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Opening Night of New Italian Cinema Festival – La Nostra Vita with Director Daniele Luchetti / Nighttime Shots of SF

Last night was the opening night of New Italian Cinema Event’s New Italian Cinema Festival. The week of premieres, hosted at Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema, celebrates new additions to Italian film.

Opening the event was a presentation of La nostra vita (Our Life), by renowned director Daniele Luchetti. One of my favorite films, Mio fratello è figlio unico (My Brother Is an Only Child) was also directed by Luchetti, so I was particularly excited to see him in person. He offered his own thoughts on his film—touching on current cultural trends in Italy—which I found very insightful as a preface for the viewing.

To paraphrase: “People in Italy only care about money now, and the only institution that keeps people together is the family.”

Correspondingly, La nostra vita is a film as heavy as it is beautiful. Filmed in the documentary style with minimal direction, it’s much like looking into a real person’s life. It’s no surprise that actor Elio Germano received Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his role as the protagonist in this film. His portrayal of a man struggling to support his children was very honest and believable.

Calendar and tickets of upcoming premieres for the New Italian Cinema Festival

Before and after the film, I took some photos of San Francisco at night. With the full moon out and the crowds gone, it was the perfect time to capture a few shots.

Five Favorite Films You Can Find On Netflix (That You Probably Haven’t Seen Yet)

As an avid consumer of film, friends often ask me for recommendations. Rather than tell all of you one at a time, I’ve compiled this list with links to the respective items on Netflix. I watch a ton of Italian films, so this list could’ve been a lot heavier in that genre. I limited my picks to only two for diversity, but if you’d like to know my other favorites, just ask me.

5. Layer Cake (L4yer Cake)

A flat-out cool crime drama.

A seasoned British drug dealer (Daniel Craig) longs to ditch his illegal trade. But he can’t do that without wrapping up just one more job involving the drug-addicted daughter of an influential criminal and a gargantuan stash of purloined ecstasy. The cache’s original owners are after him as well, leaving him with no other choice but to run for his life. Matthew Vaughn directs this intricate drama, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival.

4. My Brother Is an Only Child (Mio fratello è un figlio unico)

From the writers of my favorite film (see #1), here is yet another Italian film about brothers not getting along. Set in the politically charged 60s, it’s a nice period piece offering a glimpse of a past in a country that’s not ours. Beautifully shot and you get that cool Roman dialect. Aoh!

In a small Italian town, two disparate brothers come of age during the 1960s and ’70s. Accio (Elio Germano) and Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio) remain close despite their opposing political views, but when they both fall for the same woman, the rift between them grows. Taking place over a 15-year period, this comic drama directed by Daniele Luchetti explores Italy’s changing sociopolitical landscape through the brothers’ turbulent relationship.

3. Moon

Sci-fi at its best, it serves as a parable of humanity and a tour de force on the part of Sam Rockwell.

As he nears the end of a lonely three-year stint on the moon base Sarang, astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) begins to hear and see strange things. It’s not long before Sam suspects that his employer — the conglomerate LUNAR — has other plans for him. Featuring Kevin Spacey as the voice of a robot, this sci-fi thriller also stars Matt Berry and Kaya Scodelario. The film was an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival.

2. City of God (Cidade de Deus)

One of the best films I’ve ever seen. Totally gripping. It’s like Slumdog Millionaire with more action, grittier drama and less dancing. The sequel, City of Men, is also pretty good.

Buscapé (Alexandre Rodrigues) is frightened he’ll end up like the countless others around him — troubled, violent or dead. But his saving grace is his photographer’s eye, through which the stories of several people who live in his forsaken Cidade de Deus unfold. Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund direct this sobering look at life inside a Rio de Janeiro housing project, reputed to be one of the most dangerous parts of an otherwise magical city.

1. The Best of Youth (La meglio gioventù)

By far my favorite film of all time. I speak about it ad nauseam. I wrote about it in this blog post.

This sprawling drama that originally aired as a miniseries on Italian television sweeps from the 1960s to the 21st century, tracking the journey of two brothers, Nicola (Luigi Lo Cascio) and Matteo (Alessio Boni), who strain their family bond by taking two totally different paths. After traveling, Nicola becomes a successful psychiatrist, while Matteo becomes a policeman intent on catching criminals. But they also wind up at odds politically.

I think Roger Ebert said it best in his four-star review:

The film is being shown in two parts, three hours each, with separate admissions. You don’t have to see both parts on the same day, but you may want to. It is a luxury to be enveloped in a good film, and to know there’s a lot more of it — that it is not moving inexorably toward an ending you can anticipate, but moving indefinitely into a future that is free to be shaped in surprising ways. When you hear that it is six hours long, reflect that it is therefore also six hours deep.

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Sometimes People Break Out Into Song and You Need to be Prepared

Let’s face it, when your group of pop-savvy hipster friends break into chorus at the next bike rally, you don’t want to be the one smiling quietly pretending to know the lyrics of all the obscure camp songs. This is a fear I anticipated early on during the “Tiny Dancer” scene of Almost Famous. Since then, I witnessed at least two “Tiny Dancer”-related group song moments I was barely prepared for. Because I know this is a universal source of anxiety, I’ve prepared a list of possible songs that might randomly occur at your next big party. Start studying.

If I missed any, please let me know in the comments!

If you happen to be on a bus…

If you happen to be in the early 90s…

If you happen to be at a wedding or in the Castro…

If you happen to be emigrating to America…

If you happen to be cruising with your bro…

If you happen to be battling the Goblin King…

The Best of Youth – My favorite film that’s not Inception


IMDB | Wiki

If you know me, you’ll know I haven’t been able to shut up about La meglio gioventù (The Best of Youth) since I Netflixed it a few weeks ago. I’ve since purchased the film and gave the six-hour long epic another go. I’m happy to say that the second viewing is better than the first. And although the film came out in 2003, I can still feel cool and hip about watching it so late because it’s foreign. You can keep your flannel on.

The story primarily follows two brothers, Nicola and Matteo Carati, from their university years in the 60s to 2003. As grand in scope as it is in length, the film takes its characters all around Italy through pivotal moments in their history, from the 1966 Arno River flood in Florence to the 1992 assassination of Judge Falcone in Palermo, and as far up as a trip to Norway (there is a scene here where Nicola meets an “American” expatriate who still sounds like he has a non-American accent).

Perhaps the most notable characteristic of this film is its ability to draw the viewer into the Caratis’ profound lives. It depicts an entire lifetime in a circular sense, where moments that seem to be an ending really are new beginnings. There are several moments in this film that shake you such that you remember the scenes well after viewing them, as if it found your soul and smacked that little bitch around some.

Tumbling back up the rabbit hole…


Danny Elfman | MySpace | IMDB

I had two books with me on the plane: The Picture of Dorian Gray and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass. I felt this was appropriate as both books deal with the self-realization of their respective main characters. Dorian Gray finds a new world within himself, where beauty leads to morbid terrors, and Alice finds herself in a new world, beauty in terrorizing morbidness. Both are ultimately set free, in a manner of speaking.

I made the recent impromptu trip to Hawaii partially in an attempt to find myself. Self-identity was something I struggled with continuously in college: the dilemma of living in California while having grown up in Hawaii. In visiting home, I felt like I had no claim to either place because I really had claim to both. I would dream, then, of living on a boat, traveling from port to port, existing between worlds and having loyalties to none. It’s amazing how lost one feels when one doesn’t know where “home” really is. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere, which in turn made me unsure of who I was.

I’m very thankful now for being quite certain that San Francisco is my home. I’m even more thankful for all the good friends I’ve made since. And while there’s a soul to Hawaii that could never be replicated here (I always forget how beautiful the beach is at night when all the stars are clearly visible), there’s enough wonder and discovery to more than make up for it in other ways.

I found my apartment as I left it weeks ago. It was at once familiar and foreign to me as the underside of my palm, a familiarity committed to feeling but never noticed until actually thought of. It stood as if frozen in time, though I had changed and experienced so much since. I suppose mine was a combination of the adventures of Dorian and Alice, where I rediscovered aspects of myself by both delving deep within and tumbling, tumbling away…

Gustavo Santaolalla / "… and you can change the world."


Gustavo Santaolalla | MySpace | IMDB

I recently revisited one of my favorite films of all time, The Motorcycle Diaries, before returning home on an impromptu trip to Hawaii. It inspired me to finally pick up what might possibly be one of the most haunting and emotive soundtracks I’ve ever heard, a collaborative experience composed by several great artists, notably the Argentinean musician Gustavo Santaolalla. The introspective melodies were quite apt for my journey home, in where I’ve been delving into memories from my past via the otherwise mundane task of cleaning my room.

Let the world change you and you can change the world,” said Ernesto “Che” Guevara, a controversial figure who, whether or not you agreed with his doings, has done great or terrible things for many Latin Americans. Regardless, it’s an inspiring quote that reminds us to open our eyes and our minds, and to connect with the intricacies of the world around us.

This post is dedicated to a friend who found my last post too scary. Hello from Hawaii!